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[Page 195]

Chapter 3


The Town of Parafianov

By Haya Foss (Markman); Moshe Mor (Markman)

Parafianow was a small town and it's train station serviced also the town of Dokschitz, 10 km away. It's houses were spread over a wide area, on both sides of the railway. One the one side were the residencial houses, and on the other, the railroad buildings, the police and the clerks. The municipal authorities and the Catholic church were situated about 2 km from Parafianow, in the village of Parafianow. In the village itself, lived the manor lord, to whom belonged most of the lands around and also a liquor factory. There were about 130 families in the town, half of them Jewish. In the 1920s up to the depression in 1929, most Jews worked in the lumber trade and all adjacent jobs. Two big saw mills were bulit in town where the work was done at the maximum rate, in order to keep up with demand, and trains fully loaded with lumber would leave the town often. The Jews had a large number of stores and also a monopoly on the butcher shops. The authorities hurt the Jews by transferring the right to sell meat to the Poles. The rural population and the non-Jewish part of town was mostly Bialorussian (White Russians), the minority of which, were Catholic. They talked in their own language and were not fond of the Polish authorities, which tried to bring people from far away places in Poland to influence the population's attitude toward the regime and to promote antisemitism. Normally, the Jews and gentiles had a good relationship. The Christians would take part in the Jewish festivals and cultural events. The fire department building served as a theater and festivity hall for the entire populace. Jews and Christians work together under the same roof and in relative quiet. The town boasted one synagogue and it's two main streets were populated mainly by Jews. Up to the year 1937, Elchanan ben David Markman performed as cantor (leader in prayer), circumciser, and officiant. He also served as slaughterer in the rural area and in the nearby town of Krolevshtchizna. In 1937 a young rabbi took his place. The town Jews held Zionist notions. Adults and young men busied themselves with the national funds, and not a house was to be found that did not give generously to this sublime cause. The youngsters studdied in a public Polish school and in the afternoons went to the Hebrew school, under teachers brought to town especially for this purpose. The younger generation was active in the pioneer movements in town, and were raised on the values of "Hashomer Hazair". Comrads went to pioneer training organized by "Hachalutz" and "Hashomer Hazair" movements. Thanks to this, some of the town people reached Israel before the war.

A Group of Keren Kayemet in Parafianov (dated June 21, 1939)
Bottom left in white pants: Szloma Gejdenson, father of U. S. Congressman Sam Gejdenson

This handful of boys organized plays in Hebrew and raised a library which included some of the best Hebrew and Yiddish literature. The library was in the slaughterer's house and was handled by his sons and daughters. These same youngsters organized a string ensemble, which played in the cultural activities of the youth and with the cooperation of the town's people. After the treaty signed by Russia and Germany in 1939, the Russians entered Parafianow. As a result of the change of regimes, a major change took place in the town and in the nearby area. Jews were given responsible duties. A Jew was put at the head of the municipal council - Aharon Levitan. The religious services were not abolished by the new authorities. The postal communication between the town's people and their relatives in Israel was maintained. Some of the youth returning to the town after it's high school studies, began studying in the municipal schools in the area, to obtain a general and professional education.

The "Tarbut" (Culture) School in Parafianov (1932)

With the coming of the Hitlarian army to the area in 1941, the town became a nightmare. The first thing the Germans did when they entered the town was hang Aharon Levitan, the local council chief. The Jews were, in fact, allowed to remain in their homes but the Germans took some of them to work and forced the Jews to pay them different sums of money every once in a while. In October the Germans concentrated all the Jews in a ghetto, which was a side street in town, and put seven, even ten families into a small house. The Jews worked communally and lived in atrocious conditions. They youth was drafted to do cleaning and field work. The Nazis began to persecute the children and demanded they be employed doing manual labour, nitting and doing needle work for the Germans. Thanks to this, the children stayed with their parents. The guarding of the ghetto was put in the hands of local youth. They organized a head count every day. Making false promises and lying, the Germans demanded more and more produce and moneies, as a condition to the Jews' remaining in town.

On May 31, 1942, at 4 a.m.. the Germans, with the help of the local police and dogs, surrounded the ghetto. The Jews were ordered to dress in their finest clothes and to take all their money as they were being transferred to a nearby town for work. On the way they were taken to the fire department building, where they were undressed and beaten to shock them. In their underclothes they were led along the long main street, the gentiles looking from all sides. Thus they were taken close to a small village, where a big pit, destined to be their grave, was dug. They were lined up in a row and shot mercilessly. The pit was covered with earth and plaster and eyewitnesses told that for a long time the earth would rise from the river of blood flooding the surrounding area. A number of young men managed to escape in different ways from the murderers and ran to the nearby forest. Some joined the partisans, and some were handed to the police by the local farmeres and were killed by the Nazis. The slaughterer's daughter, Haya Markman, visited the town coming back from Russia, and saw the unknown common grave. Only the fact that the place is higher than it's surroundings led to the discovery of the grave in the wide field. The Jewish possessions were taken by the local populace. Some of the houses are in the hands of the Russian authorities. There once was a small town, Jews had inhabited it for generations, made a living, and led an extensively developped cultural life in it, until the Nazi murderers arrived. Now there is not one Jew left.

[Page 198]

[Page 199]

Trip of the students and graduates of the Hebrew School in Parafianov (1937)


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